guest column:Hopewell Chin’ono
TODAY as you read this article, Job Sikhala would have woken up at 5:30am from the cold concrete floor that he has been sleeping on since his persecution and incarceration at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, which started four weeks ago.
He is not a convicted prisoner, but through the vindictive nature of the Emmerson Mnangagwa regime, he was sent to a prison meant for convicted prisoners, where he is shackled in leg irons and handcuffs like a dangerous and convicted criminal.
His only crime is calling out corruption and looting of public funds.
Sikhala is a Member of Parliament in Zimbabwe and an officer of the High Court just like all registered lawyers.
His only crime is calling for an end to corruption in Zimbabwe, something that is killing our fellow citizens daily because money meant for public services like hospitals has been looted.
His prison cell is meant to house only 16 inmates, but like all other prison cells at Chikuribi, it is packed with 42 prisoners, and it only has one toilet with no running water.
At times the prison cell can have more prisoners, I know so because I shared the same cell with Sikhala.
At one point, the prison officials wanted to bring in more inmates with mental disorders so that we would end up at around 75 for that night.
This is in the middle of a COVID-19 pandemic which requires social distancing, but not at Chikurubi.
Sikhala and the other prisoners are locked up in this prison cell for 17 hours daily.
If you fall sick during those 17 hours, you won’t get any medical help at all.
Many die quietly and the nation never gets to know how life evolves in these prisons because of a deliberate lack of transparency mixed with lies and silly propaganda by the State.
After waking up at 5:30am, Sikhala joins the other prisoners downstairs in Section B of Chikurubi, where they get porridge without sugar in it, or anything else for breakfast.
Down there, they will be around 500 prisoners in Section B, yet they only have two toilets for use, yes, two toilets for 500 prisoners from the 12 cells in section B.
Each section is numbered in alphabetical order and has 12 cells. There is no running water in the downstairs area just like in the cells.
Prisoners spend seven hours of their time downstairs in the courtyard where they are fed and where they exercise if they wish to. When I left Chikurubi two weeks ago, almost all prisoners had no COVID-19 masks, a direct consequence of the looting of public funds and plunder of national resources which I had reported on in June and July, leading to my arrest.
At 10:30am, Sikhala and his fellow inmates are given lunch which comes in old dirty wheelie bins. It will be badly cooked sadza and boiled beans or cabbage with no cooking oil or anything else.
Resembling a concentration camp, prisoners are asked to go on “foreign”, which is a lining up of prisoners before they can get their food.
This is the dietary routine everyday all year round, nothing more. They get no meat although the prison dietary book says that they are meant to eat meat eight times a week.
“Foreign” is a bastardisation of “falling in” where the prisoners sit down in lines of five if they are in the cell, or more if they are in the downstairs courtyard.
They have no soap for either washing their hands or bathing, they have no running water — nothing. As a journalist and documentarian, being in prison gave me a front-row seat which allowed me to see how the regime has tragically failed to run a mere prison.
This is what happens when the State and government are being looted daily without legal consequence for the looters. At 3pm, Sikhala and his fellow inmates are locked up in their cells for the night where for the next 17 hours, they will be sitting and sleeping on the concrete floor with torn blankets heavily infested with lice.
Sikhala is being punished because the State and the regime know that he has no case to answer before an honest magistrate or judge who is applying law and not partisan politics.
So the regime has been punishing its critics using the office of a man called Thabani Vusa Mpofu (not the advocate), who is supposed to be an anti-corruption prosecutor in Mnangagwa’s office.
He is the one behind the persecution of Mnangagwa’s critics and political rivals using the courts, lawfare. It is so shameless that our cases, which are supposedly criminal, are being brought before the anti-corruption courts. That is how the regime is abusing the Judiciary in pursuit of political objectives.
Instructions are given not to give bail to people like myself or Sikhala, and like in my case, I started serving prison time without a conviction or even a trial as a form of vindictive political punishment.
Denial of bail and a delay in pronouncing bail rulings is meant to make sure that you are punished without trial. I spent 45 days in Mnangagwa’s prisons without trial.
When Sikhala’s lawyers visit him at the prison, he will be shackled in leg irons, a form of morbid humiliation.
But like myself, Sikhala understands that today’s humiliation is a sideshow, what matters is the ending of corruption and looting of public funds and not our individual predicament.
The citizens should focus on ending corruption which has destroyed this country, they should also stand in solidarity with Sikhala because his fight against corruption is for the citizens, not just for himself and his family.
Today, Sikhala and his fellow inmates, as they are locked up in Section B of Chikurubi, don’t have soap to wash their hands, no running water for toilets or for drinking. The only water they have comes in jugs and 20-litre containers which are then shared among the prisoners for the next 24 hours. Many prisoners use Bible pages as toilet paper.
When it rarely comes, it really feels like a Christmas moment for the prisoners, that is how low Zimbabwe has sunk. Chikurubi is meant to house
1 360 prisoners, but today houses over 2 500 prisoners.
Sikhala is not a convicted prisoner, but he is being treated worse than one, and all that Zimbabwean citizens have been able to say is #FreeJobSikhala #ZimbabweBelongsToAll.
So while you follow comedians on social media in your millions, remember that there is Sikhala languishing in Mnangagwa’s jail at Chikurubi for fighting for a corruption-free society. As an officer of the court, as a trained lawyer, Sikhala spends his evenings at Chikuribi going through trial records of other prisoners and helping them with their legal cases.
“Rega ndibatsire vafanha ava mwana wamai (Let me assist these young man my brother),” Sikhala would say to me as I stretch my long frame preparing to fit myself on my 30-centimetre-width bedding area. I saw Sikhala go through multiple trial records and advising these prisoners.
With some of them, he would immediately say that he would get them out because they had been badly represented, and they had no crime to their name based on the record.
“Mudhara hamuna mhosva imi (My friend, you have no crime),” he would shout from his concrete floor after going through one’s trial record. Prisoners would sit around him with their trial records waiting for their turn to consult Job the lawyer. I know that as you read this post, Sikhala is going through such records and attempting to help the prisoners who can’t afford a lawyer.
That is Sikhala for you, the one that I shared a prison cell with, and the one who is fearless, yet compassionate. As Sikhala battles high blood pressure and swollen legs in Chikurubi, he still finds time to help the downtrodden! Selfless.
Do we know how his family is surviving beyond calling him a hero?